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Dissertation to Book
Most of the editors with whom I spoke said that their approach to evaluating a revised dissertation is identical with their methods for assessing subsequent books by more senior scholars. A few editors mentioned that, specifically for first books based on a thesis, they are keen to see substantial revisions.
When pressed on the question of revisions, all the editors I interviewed concurred that the book must be structurally significantly different from the dissertation. University press editors offer a fairly standard set of prescriptions for how to enact these revisions.
The highlights are as follows: cut the literature review, reduce the notes by one-third, spend less time directly quoting other scholars, write better, have a punchier and broader argument, and make the introduction and conclusion more dynamic. None of the university press editors with whom I spoke actually compare book manuscripts to the dissertations on which they are based when assessing book manuscripts. On the contrary, when I asked editors who said they demanded revisions how they knew if a thesis had been revised, nearly all professed to rely exclusively on the book proposal and their own judgment.
All Your Dissertation to Book Questions, Answered (Ultimate FAQ)
University press editors differed on whether they even looked to see if the dissertation was available online. Editors at the University of Chicago and MIT presses said that they occasionally download a dissertation in order to help the author reformulate her ideas, but the editors emphasized that this is a possibility rather than standard procedure. Alan Harvey, Director of Stanford University Press, says that his editors will pull up a dissertation online but primarily in order to compare the table of contents with that of the book manuscript more on the reasons for this below.
But most university press editors said they never look for, much less at, the earlier dissertation form of a book they decide to publish. Their actions suggest that university press publishers are not primarily concerned with whether a dissertation and book are substantively different not enough to actually check for differences, at least. What they really want is for a book manuscript to follow particular conventions that make it look and read like an academic monograph.
To be fair, these conventions differ from the expectations of PhD theses in many fields, and so most dissertations will need to be extensively revised. Additionally, editors presume that differences between the dissertation and book will necessarily emerge if one is successful in publishing with a top academic press. In addition to the standard line-up of expected revisions, editors consistently told me that they and their staff add a considerable amount of value to the final form of a book, especially a first book.
Their editorial skills will ensure a significant degree of transformation. In short, university press editors are generally invested in the book as an entity unto itself, independent of its rough draft dissertation form. Moreover, there is often a gap between what university press editors say and perhaps think they do and what they actually accomplish. Most claim to publish only heavily revised dissertations. But what they actually seek are book manuscripts that meets specific expectations, regardless of how those manuscripts relate to earlier theses.
University presses are subject to market pressures. They are nonprofit entities, but they need to bring in some money in order to stay afloat. Many university presses receive Mellon grants and funding from other sources, but they also make money by selling books. Most first academic books lose money roughly a 12, USD loss per book, according to one university press editor.
It is not uncommon for presses to ask authors for a subvention or financial contribution for specific production aspects e. Given the finances of university presses, the difference between selling and copies of a first book is substantial.
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University presses see two major buyers for their books: libraries and individuals. Many of the top academic presses are most concerned with library buyers. This also benefited universities because scholars need to publish books for tenure and career advancement. Over the last decade this virtuous circle has fallen apart. University press editors told me that book sales to United States university libraries are down, some said by 80 or even 90 percent in some cases as compared to a mere five or ten years ago.
There are several culprits behind this nosedive in library acquisition rates, among which economic pressures and academic journals stand out. The financial crisis of and subsequent recession hit many United States universities hard. Most of us remember the hiring freezes, but less visible perhaps was that library budgets were often frozen or cut. During the same period of time, the major companies that publish academic journals reported massive profit increases.
Unlike university presses, the overwhelming majority of academic journals in both the humanities and sciences are owned by for-profit, commercial organizations. These companies make money primarily by selling online access to their journals and databases to universities. Elsevier, the largest publisher of scholarly journals in the world primarily focused on science and medicine , is the most lucrative of these companies. In , Elsevier made 1. As of last year, top universities coughed up an average of more than 1.
When I asked why Stanford does not simply cancel their subscription, the response was compelling: half of the campus relies on Elsevier for access to research and publishes in and edits their journals although other universities have found a middle road. Humanities scholars are also implicated in the ascent of commercial companies that publish academic journals.
Turning the Dissertation into a Book | GradHacker
Crucially, these companies most commonly sell journal access to university libraries in bundled packages, whereas books generally are bought piecemeal. When administrators need to trim the library budget, it is far easier to put individual books on the chopping block than large journal packages. Some university press editors fear that the growing pressure to cut back on book purchases has led libraries to single out monographs based on dissertations.